Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. My employee is missing too much work, but always has reasons
I have an employee who always has something happen that prevents him from coming to work on time or at all at least once per week. He will text me that morning and say, “My dog was sick all night and we need to take him to the vet” (both he and the wife are going, which to me is so odd) or “My wife is ill and I need to stay with her.” It’s always something. This has been incredibly frustrating and it happens so often that I don’t really believe him, but who can argue with someone that says those things? I don’t know how to handle this.
It sounds like he has a different idea of what you expect as far as attendance than he does, so the first thing to do is to be clear about your expectations. You’re probably thinking it should go without saying, but since he’s clearly on a different page than you, that’s step one.
Also, it sounds like you’re feeling that if the excuse sounds even a little legitimate, you have to accommodate it. But you can actually say, “I understand that you’ve had a lot going on recently, but I really need you to be here consistently and reliably. While things of course will come up from time to time, you’ve been late or Absent at least once a week for months now. Going forward, I need you to consistently be here, on time and as scheduled, except in rare circumstances.
Then figure out what consequences are reasonable if it keeps happening. Is it something you would eventually fire him over? If so, you’d want to make that clear (“I need someone in your job who can reliably and consistently be here — if this keeps happening, I will need to let you go”). To help figure that out, ask yourself whether you’d want to keep him on if you knew that this was going to keep happening for the next six months; that might make it clearer. Or if that doesn’t feel warranted, are there other consequences you need to warn him of? For example, would it impact future performance evaluations, raises, promotion potential, the type of projects he’s assigned to, and/or what types of growth opportunities he’s offered? Whatever your answer to that, make sure you get clear on what you’ll do if the problem continues after you’ve told him it needs to stop, so you’re prepared if it does continue.
2. My employee uses odd, repetitive jargon
I have an employee who has a very unusual habit. She uses the word “visibility” in almost every second sentence she says. For instance, someone will ask her, “Can you tell me why we give a free product to all our customers?” and she will say, “Yes, it’s to give them visibility on the ongoing campaign.” Other examples are “We need more visibility on this issue,” “visibility is key,” and “Let’s turn that around by creating visibility.” She says it so much, I wouldn’t be exaggerating at all to say it’s in every three to four sentences. It’s hindering people’s ability to truly understand what she means.
I have addressed it with her in a one on one, and then ongoing I try to dig deeper into what she means in terms of actions.
I have a meeting coming up in which she will be a large contributor. How can I continue to address this or help her overcome this odd, repetition jargon speak she is using? As you can see, I could use some visibility on this.
If this were just an annoying habit but wasn’t really impacting anything, I’d say you should give her some feedback on it and then let it go. But since it’s interfering with people’s ability to understand her, you’ve got standing her to push harder on it. (And really, it sounds like it’s so constant that it’s probably impacting her reputation, which is bad for her.)
How direct were you when you addressed it? Did you take a soft approach like asking her to try to be aware of how often she says it and cut down on it, or did you clearly tell her that it’s impeding people’s ability to understand her and she needs to stop using it, period? Managers often take the first, softer approach, thinking that it’s kinder to soften the message. And sometimes that works — but often people will miss the message or not realize that the manager is serious about it (as opposed to giving an optional suggestion).
So unless you were very, very clear and direct the first time, go back to her and say, “I know we talked about this in the past, and it may have seemed like a small thing. But it’s at the point where it’s hindering people’s ability to understand what you mean — which means it’s making you less effective and potentially frustrating others. I know it’s not easy to change a habit overnight, but I’m asking you to really work on this. I want people to see that — not get distracted by this habit.”
3. Candidates get snippy when I won’t take their calls before they apply
We have numerous positions open right now and I’m getting bombarded by applicants wanting “just 30 minutes” to talk more about the position and their qualifications. On average, I get about 20 of these requests a day. I feel compelled to respond because I want candidates to have a positive experience regardless of if they get the job or not.
However, a simple “thanks for your interest in joining our team, please apply online, here’s the link” results in negative reviews online and snippy emails in response. I’ve even had one applicant email everyone from our marketing director to our IT help desk to complain about my lack of professionalism. How can I build a good employer brand but not get sucked into 10 hours of informational phone calls and emails a day? What’s the best way to respond?
This is annoying! The majority of the time, these are people who want a chance to pitch themselves to you on the phone, thinking it will give them a leg up, and who aren’t actually looking to get specific questions answered before applying. It’s reasonable to direct them back to your application process, and it’s weird that people are being so snippy about it — but you might just need to modify your wording a little.
When people ask to talk before applying, I say: “Thanks so much for your interest! As a first step, I’d encourage you to use the application process in the posting (here’s the link). Because we get such a high volume of interest for our openings and many requests for these calls, we’ve found that the best way to get to know people is to steer them to the process we’ve created. , please let me know.” (I add that last part because sometimes it turns out that there’s just a single question that want answered before they spend time applying, and so then they’ll put it in an email and that saves both of us a lot of time.) I also add something like, “In part, this answer is a result of needing to ruthlessly triage my calendar right now.”
People respond to this well, I think because it gives them some context to understand why I’m saying no, and also reminds them that there are a bunch of other people asking for this too.
Also, you don’t need to treat all candidates the same. If someone appears to be a very strong candidate, it might make sense to schedule a short call with them (like 15 minutes, not 30) to tell them more about the job and get them interested. That’s the recruiting part of hiring. But you don’t need to do that with everyone.
4. Job candidates who claim to know Word and Excel but don’t
I am trying to hire for an administrative role. I’ve named in the posting that applicants must have significant experience with Excel and Word. We test our candidates in both because we don’t have the time or resources to teach people to the level of skills we need them to have. The fact that we test for these skills is also listed in the job posting.
And yet, most of the candidates who include these skills on their resume very clearly do not have the skills they claim to possess. For example, one applicant stated that she had advanced experience with Excel and Word — despite her resume, which was created in Word, having significant errors, different font formatting within the same sentence, one leftover word on the second page, and a whole line of blank spaces to “center” the text with her name and contact info. I sense that it is not appropriate for me to let applicants know that we can tell they don’t have the skills listed on their resume and they should remove them. But I feel bad because they’re probably hopeful they can learn the programs when needed and obviously don’t understand the complexity of the programs and that you can’t fake it.
Do I have to be vague with an “others were more qualified” line? Applicants hate that (understandably)! I want to help them recognize why they are not being considered.
I understand the feeling invested in helping people see how their job search strategies are harming their chances, but ultimately this isn’t your problem to solve. If these were candidates who you’d interviewed, it would be easier to say, “We’re looking for a candidate with stronger Word and Excel skills.” But it’s tough to say that when you’ve just looked at their resume (even if the resume makes it obvious). Sure, in theory you could say, “Your resume doesn’t reflect the level of Word skills that we’re seeking for this position” — but that’s inviting a dialogue that I don’t think you want to have. You’re going to get people who want to know what you mean, or who disagree, and it doesn’t make sense to get into a back and forth about it.
Really, this isn’t that different from any other skill where you can tell from a resume that the person isn’t as a strong as you need. If you need someone with strong communication skills, you’re going to get tons of resumes from people with clearly terrible communication skills claiming that they’re great at it — but it doesn’t make sense to explain that to all of them. I’d just go with your basic rejection and not worry about going into detail.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to email@example.com.